Palm Oil vs. Biodiversity

As the human population continues to grow, the populations of many other species around the globe continue to decrease.  Much of the global loss of biodiversity can be attributed to anthropogenic causes including hunting and fishing, pollution, and the introduction of exotic species into ecosystems.  While some of the causes of biodiversity loss are indirect consequences of human activity, the growth of palm oil plantations around the world has had many direct impacts on animal populations around the globe.

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Figure 1: An example of the wide array of commonly consumed products that palm oil is used in.  Photo Credit: https://www.activist-news.com/consumer-boycott/unsustainable-palm-oil/

For a variety of reasons, global use of palm oil has increased in recent decades.  Due to a couple special properties, palm oil is extremely useful.  Along with the products shown in the figure above, palm oil is additionally used in products such as baked goods and many household cleaning products.  Due to how useful palm oil is, it has been estimated that global demand for the product will double by the end of the century.  However, while its usefulness might be positive, the production of palm oil has many negative consequences that can cascade through ecosystems around the world.

As palm oil is produced in over 20 countries around the globe, the ecological consequences are an international problem.  While global palm oil production has been linked to global warming, with large atmospheric CO2 emissions, one of the largest impacts comes from palm oil productions link to habitat destruction.

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Figure 2: A forest recently cleared in order to make room for palm oil production. Photo Credit: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/environmental_impacts/forest_conversion/

As the oil palm tree can only grow in tropical areas, the places in which palm oil production can occur are limited.  With this, much of palm oil production occurs on previously forested land, which in turn has led to much deforestation in tropical regions around the world.  Deforestation for palm oil production not only releases large amounts of atmospheric CO2, as previously mentioned, but can also lead to ecological alterations such as erosion and water pollution.  In addition to these, deforestation has been strongly linked to a global loss in biodiversity.

Due to habitat loss, many already endangered species, such as Bornean orangutans and pygmy elephants,are being driven close to extinction.  In addition to just habitat loss, palm oil production is threatening many species in a multitude of other ways.

Research has found that palm oil production has increased the accessibility of many animals to poachers and hunters. This in turn has led to more and more animals losing their lives due to palm oil production.  In addition to to over 50,000 orangutans having already been killed, palm oil production threatens populations of tigers, elephants,, monkeys, and many more.

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Figure 3: Orangutan found severely injured after habit destruction due to deforestation for palm oil production. Photo Credit: http://www.seenox.org/say-palm-oil/

As there are many food options that don’t have palm oil as an ingredient, and scientists are continually finding new ways in which we could replace palm oil in our food, the time to act is now.  While the global climate and biodiversity are being threatened in many ways, it is important that people start realizing that changes can be made that can help the other beings with whom we share our planet.  As palm oil is by no means necessary, and there are other input and output of production options, there is no need to continue harming animals and ecosystems, but there is a need to say no to palm oil.

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Palm Oil vs. Biodiversity

  1. amyquandt

    Very powerful images. Do you know more about the history of palm oil? How long has it been used and why is its popularity and use growing so quickly?

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    • The rise of palm oil has happened in part due to certain properties of the plant itself. Not only is the oil very versatile, giving it a high market value, the plant has an extremely high yield, making production of palm oil very valuable and profitable. The use of oil palm in human societies dates back to West African cultures, and there has even been evidence of its use in times of the Egyptian Empire. The expansion of the use of palm oil to the international market has been attributed to European Colonization and the British Industrial Revolution including and expansion of overseas trade. After WWII, increase in technology then led to a global rise in palm oil use, with the ability of using largely unhydrogenated oil as a major factor in this rise. An increase in the technologies allowing more efficient international trade has allowed the use of palm oil to increase all across the globe, and with its efficiency as a product, it is desired, so it is now greatly used across the world.

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